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March 16, 2001


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The second and concluding part of the interview on Kamal Hassan, the master of masquerade:

Is it difficult directing yourself? Is it frustrating not being able to watch yourself perform?

No, because everything was being shot on video. No shot is okayed without a replay. Both Jekyll and Hyde are on the sets.

Did you get what you expected from Hey! Ram?

I expected from Hey! Ram whatever I expected from all my other films -- success.

There is another catch to it. If Hey! Ram had succeeded, it would have changed the face of Tamil cinema. That's for sure.

I am not talking through my hat. Even if someone else had made the film, it would have meant the same.

Kamal Hassan Films like that have done it before. The thrust was five years, like an election campaign. I expected Hey! Ram to do that. It had that quality, and not because it was my film.

What was the genesis of the film? How did you hit upon Saket Ram? Was it just to hold a contrary view to evoke reaction?

It starts from a little joke when a little girl browsing through her parents' wedding pictures asks, "Where was I?"

I asked myself, what would have I done had I been there? Would I have been any wiser or would I have been sucked into the vortex? Actually, I would have been as naïve and as stupid as the people of that time. People were captives of the situation.

The one person who rose above it was Gandhi. So he was alone.

I felt it was high time someone at least felt sorry instead of licking their tongue like a Farex baby at the situation. That's neither mamta (affection) nor sympathy.

That's the kind of kindness we've been showing Gandhiji and that's the kind of neglect we've shown to one of our notorious crimes. It's a combined sanction. Somewhere in our minds, we sanctioned it. It was not one man.

In a country of millions, a political act is not one man's act. I wanted to address these people and found a section of them.

But did you start off thinking it was a one-man act? One allegation is that it started off as an anti-Gandhi film but turned ambiguous.

No, no. If at all I am a closet anything, I am a closet Gandhi fan. Nobody knows that, though. I kept it a secret because as a teenager, I have said unfavourable things about Gandhiji. So you feel ashamed to turn back on what you've said.

It's not chic to be a Gandhi fan. And it is clichéd to say Gandhi is a good man because it has been said a million times before. He is even on a damn rupee note. It is as boring as a non-detailed lesson. You are never going to get the moral of it till you get a detailed story.

So I was interested in (Nathuram) Godse's point of view. I wanted to get into the psyche. You may say that The Day Of The Jackal was an inspiration, but no. The Jackal was unrepentant. Here, the killer is a confused man, but not a fool." Kamal Hassan

Did you toy with the idea of Godse as the central character?

No. I was very clear that here was a man who was sucked in.

My themes are very repetitive. All filmmakers have one theme, like the Samurai theme for Kurosawa and the suspense theme for Hitchcock.

Mine is a man's suffering and his struggle to rise above it. If you look at it, however compliant he may have been to the whole thing, Godse is responsible for the act and has to redeem himself. It's not about crime and punishment. It's about realisation and redemption.

Today, Hey! Ram is a lesson at Iowa University. The professor who teaches it, an American, is a Ramayana expert and a Hey! Ram supporter. He likes Gandhi and is not a fascist. I wanted to walk through that period, talk to the characters and come out.

It's a very dangerous experiment and that's why I called it 'an experiment with truth'.

Rumour is that you are deep in debt and that's why you're on this signing spree.

Could be. Yeah. Not fully true but the debt is one's own definition. Well, Rs 120 to Rs 150 million is a lot of money. I have to get it back and I am smiling. There's no panic.

What is it that keeps you going if it's no longer the money?

I have something to do, which I haven't. We have to show that we're capable of good films too. I was just talking to Mani Ratnam.

We were saying, 'What are we doing?' Finally, we were talking about various stories that will work here.

Are we talking about that or yet another compromise and failing and taking insults from an audience whom mentally we're not making a film for?

So we are not willing to be the courtesans they expect us to be. Or, if marriage proposed, we are not professing that we'll take celibacy. So, we were trying to seek direction, trying to see 'whether he can see horizon better than I can'.

Rumours are rife that Mani and you are getting together again.

Ya, we're talking about it. Depends on what we arrive at.

Kamal Hassan Do you think your old favourites like K Balachander and Bharathi Raja have failed to adapt to the times?

This is something I fail to understand because Kurosawa kept pace till he died. There'll always be the young Turks who will say he's a bloody old man. That will happen to me and Mani too. But Satyajit Ray was at it till the last moment.

Why talk about dead men? Let's talk about Benegal Saab (Shyam) or Govind Nihalani.

But you are talking about a section which was very clear. They never wavered.

Well, Mani and I never wavered. Especially Mani. I was astounded by him. I sort of vacillate sometimes. He never did. It's probably that business management training. He's very clear.

I'd say the same of Balachander. By default or by choice, I don't know. He never got out of the middle-class milieu. He was very clear about his audience.

In a way, I can't do that. Probably wisdom will set in, later.

Chaplin (Charlie) was comfortable with what he did till he was 60. Never complained and then he did Limelight. Till then he was a willing clown.

The only man I admire who transgressed is Spielberg. That must have been from (Francis Ford) Coppola, who must have been a great inspiration. Coppola was another who, when he was finished with the mafia saga, made Rumble Fish. Astounding.

We all come from the same family with Coppola as the elder brother and Kurosawa as the father figure.

You have come to a stage where you shoot one film at a time. Do you think it would enhance your performance if you shot in a chronological order?

Sometimes it does help. With Abhay, we're shooting one character at a stretch. We're trying. It's not a method.

For that matter, Thevar Magan was shot in that chronology. Hey! Ram was jumping chronology but I was going through it every time.

Is it an advantage or a disadvantage?

It is a disadvantage as far as production planning is concerned.

I'm talking about the flow in the film.

No, that you have to work out at the script stage. Like when I explain a scene to some good writers, they pooh-pooh it and you have to really stick on and show it on screen. Without a second thought, they say, brilliant. Which means it was not their ego.

Kamal Hassan They had not seen that scene at all. It's some sort of unicameral vision they go into. It's a parallax error there.

Now this character in your next film Abhay has many shades of Hannibal Lector of Silence Of The Lambs.

Abhay is based on a novel written by me. Nandu is Hannibal Lector and was conceived much before Thomas Harris conceived the character. He wrote it in 1989 while my book came out in 1983. Nobody wanted to make it into a film them. Now the time has come.

There was the young Kamal in the 1980s constantly seeking variety and even playing elderly characters. Kamal in 2000s is seen prancing around with young actresses...

The 1980s' Kamal was also prancing around. This dancing and prancing around and romancing heroines is on request. It comes absolutely from the audience. They want one dance and the request comes from someone in Silicon Valley.

Do not blame me because I keep giving them variety.

A Mrinal Sen as well as a David Dhawan appreciates and wants to work with you. But you don't seem to want to play. Why haven't you worked with Mrinalda or Benegal?

It hasn't worked. When I was in the thick of Thevar Magan, Mrinalda wanted me, but I couldn't go. He was angry and I could understand.

I tried working with Govind, but things haven't worked out.

I am constantly in touch with Benegal because he's my inspiration for Marudanayagam. He saw the script and his excitement was contagious. He thinks it is colossal and gave his suggestions. He's a young man with a bald head. His spirit is great.

In fact, Govind and Manmohan Shetty, after Hey! Ram took a nosedive, had a small party, quietly and kept saying good things about the film. It was a touching gesture. Kamal Hassan

How do you rate the present crop of directors in the South?

There are talented youngsters strewn all over, but all this talk about Madras creating the best technicians is humbug. We have great cinematographers. We have genius but so do Bombay and Bengal.

There seems to be something stopping these youngsters from approaching you.

Tell me who they are. They all come to me but probably when they're wiser. They don't have anything striking to offer.

Even Mani and I are still talking. It's not just Kamal to be fed. We have to feel the spirit that's kindled when we hear something. Success and failure don't matter. Nobody knows anyway.

Have you seen any good film of late?

Plenty. All of them are good for various reasons. Saw a series of Roberto Benigni's films. Life Is Beautiful and Seeking Asylum.

I recently saw a 25-year-old film. I was floored. It was shown on HBO and the film is Godfather. Absolutely classic. There are no two ways about it. I said it then and I am saying it now.

Performances do not have to be the latest when you're looking at the greatest. What control! The credit goes completely to Coppola. I haven't seen any Indian films. Very few are inviting.

You are at a crossroads. In the sense that you may have to play character roles in a couple of years. Would that wound your ego?

I may not act at all. That's what I tell people, but nobody takes me seriously. I might slip behind the camera. It would have happened if Hey! Ram had succeeded.

Don't tell me you're going to hang up your makeup kit?

No, I might appear in one scene. I've relied too much on the star now. I am not complaining. I'm just saying I might take that route. I'm not committing.

Where does Kamal Hassan go from here?

Anything. It could be John Wayne for all you know.

Earlier story: Part I

Courtesy: Stardust

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